Sunday, September 24, 2017

Peak to Peak

Have you ever run a marathon?  If you're like the vast majority of people, the answer is a definite, "No!".  However, for both the maintenance staff and the turf, the past two weeks have felt like back to back marathons.

The first push started as we prepared for one of the Club's premier events, the fall Member-Member.  We always coordinate our late summer aerification with the timing of this event in an effort to have the course in great condition.  With the wet weather of August delaying the completion of aerifiying, we knew having things completely healed would be close.  Based on comments from members who participated in the event, we got a nice thumbs up.

We had no time to pat ourselves on the back after the Member-Member, as Laurel Creek hosted the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship last week, beginning with a Pro-Am on Monday, and concluding on Thursday.  Over 140 of the area's pros were competing for the title, and from beginning to end, this was a positive experience for all involved.

For starters, the communication with the PGA Section Staff was outstanding.  We had met to discuss course setup well ahead of time, and their were no last minute requests or surprises.  To the contrary, the PGA officials asked repeatedly if everything was good on our end, or if we needed anything.

It was also unusual, and refreshing that not one single time during this four day event were we asked the green speed.  To repeat, the number of times we were asked the speed was:  Zero.  That truly is something to take a step back and consider.  Pin placements were chosen by putting to a potential location, not by a number.

That being said, we did hear adjectives describing the putting surfaces, such as "fast," "slick" and "really fast."

Another thing the staff appreciated was how the players went  out of their way to thank them for the hard work they do.  We even had a player swing into the maintenance facility between #17 green and #18 tee to thank us.

While we saw some low scores posted the first two days, with the tees pulled back on the final day of competition, there were few red numbers to be found:
Terry Hertzog's -2 was one better than Dave Quinn.

Despite two straight weeks of abuse, both the turf and staff held up extremely well!  The guys will be very happy to back off double-mowing for a few days.  However, it's now on to the next challenge, as we have July-like temperatures to deal with for a bit...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On a Roll

The new greens roller we acquired this year has been a great addition to our equipment inventory.  In particular, following aerification, we can do a much better job of smoothing the greens with this roller than with the triplex roller we have used for years.

One of the reasons we had been hesitant to purchase a "sidewinder" roller in the past, was that most of these machines are transported from green to green on a trailer, and/or pulled by a utility vehicle.

The additional time required to load and unload the roller onto a trailer would have meant that we needed two rollers to get the job completed ahead of play.  Besides the two rollers, we would also need two utility vehicles to pull them, as well as two of our best equipment operators to use the machines.

In contrast to this, the roller we purchased needs no trailer or utility vehicle to transport it from hole to hole.  With the push of a button, the wheels lower, and the machine zips from green to green.  Below is the roller leaving #9 green:
Wheels down for transport.

Finding the self-transporting machine finally sold us on a sidewinder that would fit into our maintenance program.  We can now get all of the greens rolled in just slightly more time than our old triplex roller, without needing any additional personnel, or tying up any additional equipment.
Wheels are raised when rolling.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Project Time

Although we are just a week removed from Labor Day, we are already starting on some project work that will improve the golf course in the future.  This fall we will be renovating one acre of Fescue, between #7 and 13.

This past week, we started by cutting the area down.  Some might say that playability has already improved here!

Over the next several weeks we will be making herbicide applications to this area.  If you see it roped off, or "Keep Out" signs, please do not enter--we don't want the herbicide tracked onto the primary rough or fairways.  As we did during the renovation work last year, ball retrievers will be placed outside the area for you to use.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

While it's much more fun to write about our successes on the course, it would be unrealistic to think that everything we do works to perfection.  We knew there would be challenges following last year's Master Plan work, and that we would need to tweak our maintenance practices in many areas.  For example, bunker maintenance has changed dramatically, with many new bunkers being hand raked, and the faces being rolled.  Additionally, with the creation of new mounding in the rough, and bunkers being shifted closer to the greens, we now use a smaller mower to maintain these areas.

A third area that changed has been the Bentgrass green surrounds, which are mowed by hand.  For the most part, these areas made it through the year in good shape, however some spots suffered damage.  Clearly, the surrounds on  #16 took the biggest hit.  In analyzing why this happened, it's good to keep in mind that when turf "goes south" it's often not for a single reason, but a combination of factors which push it over the edge.

One of the issues we see on #16 is mechanical stress from both maintenance equipment and foot traffic.  The walk on-walk off area of this green really funnels everyone into the same tight space.  Likewise, with the bunkers now pulled in closer, we see mowers and rollers struggling to make wide turns.

A second factor here became drainage (or lack thereof).  When these surrounds were rough, being cut at 2", a wet swale wasn't as susceptible to damage as it now is, when it is Bentgrass being cut at 3/8".
The green surrounds on #16 don't look bad...from a distance.

A third problem was that we applied the exact same fertility and plant protectants to the Bentgrass surrounds as we did to the greens.  A reasonable question might be:  What could go wrong when you're treating this new sod just as you do the most important turf on the course?  Well, it turns out that the sod isn't accustomed to the high rates of plant growth regulators we apply to the greens.  So, in this case, treating an area just like a green may have led to more stress, not less.

Timing might be a fourth factor for #16.  This was the last hole worked on in 2016, which limited our ability to get the sod well established, and aerified prior to the winter.

Lastly, as the USGA article below noted, we were not alone in having issues in Bentgrass this summer.

For now, the thin turf has been seeded, and we look to install drainage over the winter.  Again, most of the new areas performed well, but we see many opportunities to make improvements.  Given the topsy-turvy weather we often experience, it seems prudent to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The devil is in the details...

You might think that the aerification process is the same now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.  However, quite a bit has changed both in terms of the equipment and labor we use in this process.

To start with, bigger isn't always better.  While our tractor-mounted aerifier can cover a whole lot of ground, the clean performance and tighter hole spacing that the walking machines give us, is now preferred.

We often say that the actual aerification process is pretty fast and simple--it's the cleanup afterwards that takes time and effort.  Once the aerification plugs have dried a bit, we separate the thatch and soil by using an old fairway mower which has verticut reels, and pulls a steel drag mat.  On a hot, dry day, this is a dirty job.

We then follow behind with our core harvesters, which pick up the thatch. 

Back in the day, the final cleanup was done by a tractor-mounted PTO blower.  Once again, we found the bigger machine wasn't necessarily the best machine for the job.  Today, we use up to 10 backpack blowers to do a final cleaning of the turf.  This is really labor intensive (and yes, another dirty job), but allows us to have a very clean finished product.

Some courses keep a set of old mowing units for cutting post-aerification, which they may refer to as mud or dirt reels.  Given our detailed cleanup, these are not necessary!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

It rained on our parade...

After extolling the wonderful weather last week, we should have known that we were in for some less than perfect conditions for aerifying.  Monday's green aerification went well...for most of the day.  However, just about the time we were going to give the greens a final blowing to redistribute the sand, it started to rain. 

The topdressing sand we use for filling the aerification holes is kiln-dried, which allows it to spread easily, quickly filling the holes.  Once this sand got wet, it was like trying to spread cake frosting across the greens.
Greens aerification started with sunny skies.

Tuesday came, and we aerified the rain.  Once again, both cleanup and working the topdressing sand into the holes were challenging activities.  We absolutely could not have gotten the job done without the great teamwork that took place.  This year, several members of the Pro Shop staff pitched in to help, which made a huge difference in our success.

We are moving on to fairways this week, and that can mean only one thing:  The weather forecast is calling for temperatures well above average.  To this, we say, "Bring it on!"  The team is ready to don their ear plugs and dust masks and tackle this important task!  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wonderful Weather

Often times, it seems like all we do is complain about the weather (especially at this time of year).  So, in an effort to be fair and balanced, let it be known that we are extremely grateful for the great weather we have had the past week.
Looking back down #12 from the green.

When it comes to giving the turf a break, cool nights are equally as valuable to us as cool days.  Any August morning when we need to throw on a light jacket is welcomed, and we were happy to have a few of them this week.

Some folks have already forgotten the six heat waves we experienced before August, and are referring  to this as an "easy" year.  While this may end up being just an "average" year when the books are closed on it, it has had its share of challenges, including way too much rain for many local courses.

The forecast looks like we will have good weather for aerification this week.  Less stress going into this process will hasten recovery and get us set up for some great conditions this fall.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Touting Our Tote Uses

If you read the Repurposed post last month, we discussed a way we had found to reuse the totes which liquid fertilizer comes in.  A quick zip with a reciprocating saw gave us a great container for storing divot mix.

Well, the creative juices were at work again recently, and we found another time-saving use for these totes.

We often need to water plantings around the Clubhouse, and it is impractical to hook up a hose. Once again, a search on Amazon led us to what we were looking for:  A 12 volt, self-priming pump, with 4+ gallon per minute flow.

We now have the ability to take close to 300 gallons of water wherever we need it.  In addition to making the watering easier during the summer, this can also be used as a water supply when we are pressure washing the bridges over the winter.

When not needed, the tote and attached pump slide right out of the utility vehicle.  Who knows what the next use for these totes will be...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

To mow or not to mow...

...that is the question.  While rainfall is often welcome after a long dry period, the unpredictability of summer storms can lead to some tough choices.

For example, between July 22 and 23, the course received just under 2" of rain.  When we arrived on Monday, July 24, the turf was pretty juicy, and not in the ideal condition for us to be cutting fairways.  However, the weather prognosticators were calling for the possibility of additional storms Monday night.  If that occurred we were looking at going five days between fairway mowings.  This would be messy and have the potential for "scalping" the plant.
Slight mechanical damage can be seen on a fairway following a mowing under wet conditions.

While our focus is primarily on turf being cut as low as 0.10", we often see summertime mowing issues in home lawns as well.  Cutting the lawn when it is under drought stress can really set things back.

Of course, cutting when the backyard is saturated isn't a whole lot better.

As it turned out, while the conditions on Monday were less than ideal for mowing fairways, it was the correct decision.  Monday night, the "hit or miss" storms hit us again, depositing an additional inch of rain on the golf course, and leaving us saturated on Tuesday.

Working around the weather is never dull, and can be frustrating.  This weekend, they were predicting a rare summer nor'easter, and had us on the 2"+ line for rainfall.  Instead, we received 0.2" of rain--only 10% of what was forecast...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Irrigation Intake Screen Install

Last year, we began finding items such as plastic bags (and fish) in one of the pump station's intake wet well.  In the fall, we had a diver inspect the intake pipe screen. What he found during that inspection were some gaping holes in the original metal screen.
The original screen wasn't keeping anything out.

This past Monday, we finally had the intake screen replaced on this station, which is located between #5 and 6.  While the serious work was taking place under the water, we had plenty to keep us occupied on the surface.   
The new stainless steel screen is ready to be installed.

The first step was to remove the build up of silt around the intake pipe using a dredge pump. 
Again, there was a tremendous amount of setup required, including the placement of a "turbidity curtain" in the pond, to prevent cloudy water from getting back to the intake screen area, further hampering visibility. 
The dredge pump is being setup.

The pump's discharge hose, deposited the sediment into a geotextile bag.  The bag initially wanted to slide towards the water, so we placed one wheel of a utility cart on the bag to hold it in place. 
The bag filled up quickly, and it soon became clear that the cart was no match for this bag.

To get the screen in place, lift bags were attached, then it was carried out to a point where it could float.

The screen is being floated out to the end of the intake pipe.

Given the hot temperatures, nobody was complaining about having to go for a dip.  An air hose was connected to a small compressor and the lift bags, giving the diver the ability to adjust the level of the screen as he set it in place, and attached it to the intake pipe.

It was a long, hot day, and after 8:00 p.m. when the install was completed.  However, if it lasts for another 25+ years, it was well worth it!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Some perfect weather...

...for breeding turf problems.  Yes, we finished our fourth heat wave of the year last Thursday with oppressive humidity and some showers.  Although we dodged the heavy rain that neighboring areas received, there was still a whole lot of moisture in the air, which made the golf course a great petri dish for turf diseases.

Fortunately, at this time of year, we make preventative plant protectant applications to most areas of the course, and we saw little active disease.  However, one notable exception to this is the Fine Fescue areas.  While the Fescue definitely require more herbicide applications than any other part of the  course, fungicides applications aren't something we'd typically consider.

If we're looking for a way to keep these areas thin and wispy, then some well-placed Dollar Spot disease might not be a bad thing.

Of course, Mother Nature will rarely do exactly what we would like.  So, while a small amount of Dollar Spot may not be so bad, finding Brown Patch plus Dollar Spot in the Fescue isn't ideal, and may make spots a bit too thin.

We often say that there are no two years alike.  If nothing else, we can always count on that, and with its own unique challenges, 2017 is proving to be no different.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Brothers in Turf

Finding reliable summer help is often a challenge for us--the hours are crazy and the work is hard.  That is why we are very grateful for having a solid group of young men this year.  One unique thing about our 2017 team is that we have three brothers working together.

Entering his third season at Laurel Creek, is oldest brother, Joe.  He is a graduate of Ursinus College and now working as a teacher in the Moorestown school district.  Joe was a stand out performer for us two years ago, when he relentlessly pushed a blower during our August aerification.

Youngest brother, Mike, has returned for a second season.  He has completed his freshman year at Virginia Tech. and will be majoring in Engineering.  Like his brothers, Mike is a strong, consistent man on the team.

Middle sibling, Luke, is here for his first season, but has picked things up very quickly, and does an excellent job with the bunkers.  Luke is an Environmental Sciences major at Rutgers, and will be receiving internship credit for his experience on the golf course this summer.

Given their varied career paths, you might wonder if these siblings share any common interests?  Rumor has it, there is at least one thing they have all enjoyed during college:  Rugby!

Whether it is Luke banging out bunkers, Mike laying down some razor-like lines on greens, or Joe terrifically triplexing tees, these guys are a real asset to the Laurel Creek team.

If you happen to see them (or any of the staff members) on the course, please feel free to give them a thumbs-up if you appreciate their efforts.  Honestly, that quick, simple gesture can make someone's day during these dog days of summer!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Back to Bunker Basics

As a reminder, when coming in and out of bunkers, they should be entered and exited only from the low side.  For example, on the bunker in front of #2 green, the bunker should be accessed from the side closer to the tee, not the green side.

We have been instructing the maintenance staff to place rakes on the low side, however it seems that every morning, a few rakes have magically migrated back to the high side.
This rake is now between the green and bunker--not where golfers should be entering or exiting.

While the picture below doesn't do justice to the severity of the slope, at 33 degrees, this is a steep face.  Repeatedly entering and exiting the bunker on this slope will obviously move sand, eventually destroy the sod lip, and is potentially dangerous to the player.

Of course, seeing unraked footprints on a bunker face is like adding insult to injury.  We have spent an enormous amount of time and effort this year to improve the condition of the bunkers.  Your help in properly maintaining them is appreciated!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Back to Basics: Ball Mark Repair

Unfortunately, we continue to see a good number of unrepaired ball marks on the greens, or ball marks which were not properly repaired.   The picture below gives step by step directions for how to properly repair a ball mark:

Further instruction can be found by watching this brief USGA video:
USGA Course Care Ball Mark Repair

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask a member of the Pro Shop staff.  Your help in keeping the greens smooth, will be appreciated by all who play behind you!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tired of Talking Take-All

As we discussed last month (The Patch is Back), we've been monitoring this year's Take-All patch closely.  Like many turf diseases, this pathogen operates in a fairly narrow soil temperature range.

The good news is that this past week's heat wave and record-breaking temperatures appear to have gotten us out of the "sweet spot" for Take-All to continue damaging the Bentgrass roots.
2" soil temperatures spiked to 81 degrees last week.

The bad news with this sudden burst of heat was that many of the areas which were damaged by Take-All quickly showed up when having to deal with heat stress--no roots and 96 degrees is not easy for a plant to survive.

Back to the good news. We kept the tees and fairways well hydrated throughout the week, and by Saturday it looked like we were starting to see some recovery, which is encouraging.

Again, this disease is somewhat random in when and where it appears, however we do see some patterns.   While it's not something we can graph in a straight line, there is a correlation between the amount of organic matter in an area, and the prevalence of  the disease.  The picture below shows that the forward tee on #3 got hit hard with Take-All, whereas the main teeing area, which was stripped and reseeded a few years ago, has little disease.

Going forward, we will continue to work to prevent Take-All,  This fall and winter there are a number  of different treatment protocols we will be looking at that will include different levels of fertility, applications of different trace minerals, as well as preventative fungicide applications.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Member-Guest Week

Each year, a good deal of planning and preparation goes into getting the course ready for our Member-Guest tournament.  So, how can you tell when it's Member-Guest week?  Well, from the perspective of the Grounds Staff, here are a few giveaways:

The regular 4:25 a.m. wake up time is starting to look really good.

There's a whole lot of double mowing...

...but not a whole lot of clippings to show for it.

After the mowing comes the rolling.
The divot mix boxes are getting Armor All.
A patch of brown grass gets painted green.
You've hit your daily step goal by 7:00 a.m.

This year we were fortunate to have great weather for the event.  When you combined this with a team of employees who focused on the details, the resulting course conditions seemed easy--almost...

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hydraulic Leak: A Success Story

Did you see the 100 yard long hydraulic leak we had on #9 fairway?  More than likely, the answer to this question is no, and we're happy we can say that with confidence.  Two weeks after it occurred, you will have to really look hard to see the remnants of the leak.

Even up close, you may have difficulty seeing the oil line parallel to the sprinkler and quick coupler valve.

In an ideal world, we would never have to deal with issues like hydraulic leaks.  However, even when following manufacturer's best management practices for preventative maintenance on equipment, sooner or later a leak will occur.  In this particular case, it was not a hose, but a seal on one of the mower's hydraulic motors that failed.

The pictures above don't do justice to this leak either.  When we initially saw it, this looked like it had the potential to leave a solid dead strip of grass up to 2" wide.  So, how did we minimize the damage and not have, "...some splainin' to do?"

Well, for the same reasons that most of us keep a fire extinguisher in the house, "just in case," we keep a spill response kit in the maintenance facility, to address hydraulic leaks.  In this instance, we were able to quickly grab the remediation products, and get on the spill within a couple of minutes.

It's not often that we would ever consider putting the phrases, "hydraulic leak" and "success story" anywhere near each other, and truthfully, good fortune was on our side.

The incident took place very close to the maintenance facility, the operator notified us immediately, and the turf wasn't stressed prior to the leak.  So, while we can't guarantee the same results every time, we are very grateful that solid planning and a bit of luck led to a happy ending in this situation.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Often times, when we receive bulk deliveries of liquid fertilizer or wetting agents, they are packaged in large totes.  Typically, the  companies who sell the goods are not interested in getting these totes back.  So, what do we do with these containers?

Well, for years we have been using large concrete mortar pans to hold the divot mix we make.  These metal pans cost a few hundred dollars, and eventually rust out. 

In trying to come up with a good replacement for these, a light bulb went off, and after a quick zip with a reciprocating saw, we now have a new divot mix storage container. 

As the saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."  Whether you call it recycling or repurposing, we now have a good divot mix container which won't rust, and the price was right!  An added bonus is that this can easily be moved with a pallet jack or loader forks.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Patch is Back

After dealing with Take All Patch  throughout much of the spring of 2016, it was a real bummer to see the signs of it once again a few weeks ago.  This disappointment was compounded by the fact that following last year's battle with Take All, we had taken a more proactive approach to handling this disease, and made preventative fungicide treatments last fall, using three different treatment protocols.

Take All Patch on #7 approach.

As with many root-borne turf diseases, once you see the damage to the foliage from Take All Patch, it's often too late to do anything, as the plant's root system has already been compromised.

Whenever we make any treatment to the course, we try to leave check plots to see if the treatment was effective, or not.  However, this disease is seemingly so random in nature that it's difficult to quantify what impact the fall fungicide treatments may have had.  As General Manager, Joel, pointed out, maybe the treatments actually worked well, and we'd be in a whole lot worse shape now without them.

While prevention is the key to this pathogen, we are testing a curative approach this spring, using a liquid fertilizer and wetting agent program.  We marked a small patch on #7 approach, so we can easily track whether the disease is getting worse, or if the spray has stopped it, and we start to see recovery in the Bentgrass.

Like most turf diseases, Take All Patch is only active in a fairly narrow temperature range.  Its appearance in 2017 was later into the spring than in 2016, leaving us hopeful that it will be gone sooner rather than later this summer.